Quick Review: Tony Butt’s Guide to Sustainable Surfing

Dr. Tony Butt

This quick read (74 pages,£0.87 on Kindle) is worth an hour or two of your time, especially if you’re into surfing or outdoor pursuits and are concerned about the environment. Tony Butt is a big-wave surfer and has a PhD in Physical Oceanography; his educational columns on Surf Science in Surfer’s Path magazine (and his book on the same) are excellent primers on waves, surfing and the environment.

In this text, Dr. Butt sets out to describe how we impact the environment as surfers and how we can make choices that can mitigate these impacts. He makes connections between the issues of Energy, Travel and Stuff related to surfing, highlighting the unsustainable nature of the jet-setting, product-hungry, WCT-inspired modern surfer. Of particular interest are issues of embodied energy and product life cycle assessment, which you may recognise from Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff series on YouTube, or Daniel Goleman’s Ecological Intelligence. As a marine biologist and science teacher there was little that was new to me, but some of the information on surfboard construction and wetsuits was enlightening. At times the text reads as though it was minimally-edited (there are repeated uses of similar phrases and references to Mentawais trips), but the message gets through loud and clear: make careful choices, cut down on unnecessary travel and buy-to-last, not buy-the-latest.

Anya in Baleal, Portugal.

This short text should act as an inspiration to surfers to learn more about our impacts: follow the links, recognise that we are not separate from nature and aim to be mindful in our choices. I would love to see more of his articles presented in cheap Kindle-format like this (Surfers’ Path, if you’re reading this…) and would definitely recommend a copy to surfing friends or students. I think this book could effectively be adapted into a series of webisodes on sustainable surfing to spread the message further.

As an international teacher getting back into the water, it was a good reminder of where the negative impacts of our lifestyle lie and how we might take action to reduce them. International travel may be an essential part of our lifestyle, but wastefulness need not be. It certainly helps that gear here in Japan is so expensive, too – just last week we hunted out a large second-hand store with a big selection of used boards. As my daughter develops as a surfer I hope that we can give her a sense of environmental responsibility and ocean stewardship.

Here’s Tony Butt discussing the Energy issue in terms of renewable energy sources over oil, following an oil spill in the Canaries that rendered the environment dangerous and the waves unrideable.


Footnote: This Story of Stuff video from 2007, which we used in environmental science class, gives a quick and general overview of some of the issues discussed in Dr. Butt’s book.

Post-script: I wonder how sustainable these new Patagonia wetsuits really are? Although Dr. Butt’s book pre-dates this innovation, he recognises that wetsuit technology is inherently polluting (and oil-based) and suggests that we should aim to buy the most durable suits we can, rather than regularly replace large pieces of non-biodegradable neoprene. Thanks to scientist Karen James (@kejames) for mentoning it on Twitter.



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One response to “Quick Review: Tony Butt’s Guide to Sustainable Surfing”

  1. Stephen Avatar

    Reblogged this on i-Biology and commented:

    A quick review of a quick read: if you’re into surfing or the outdoors, this is worth your time (and is very cheap).

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